GRANDVILLE – Dow High had plenty of challenges to face in its Division 1 girls’ soccer regional semifinal.
First, the two-hour drive from Midland to Grandville. Then, a weather delay that started the game 62 minutes after it was scheduled – making for a long night with exams looming.
And that was all before taking the field.
When the Chargers (10-4-2) finally took the field, they had to contend with one of the better teams in the division: Hudsonville.
Dow coach Spencer Sandow pleaded with his team pregame that it was imperative to start strong, which the Chargers did. However, the Eagles (15-0-4) also started strong and will advance to the regional final Thursday with a 1-0 win over the Chargers.
Even so, Sandow, who was hired in January, said he was proud of the way his team fought.
“I told them to keep their heads up high,” Sandow said. “We love to play in games like those – close playoff games. In the moment, it stings, but they can keep their heads up high. We bid farewell to our four seniors, but we’re looking to build for the future.”
As the team gathered one more time on the sideline, Sandow said he was proud of what his team had accomplished in one of the strangest seasons anyone might face.
“It’s a super special moment,” Sandow said. “We accomplished a lot of great things. We came and competed against a team that was undefeated – and we gave them everything.”
Dow started strong on the offensive end, working the ball toward the Eagles’ net in the early going. However, Dow’s struggling to connect passes led to chances on the other end for Hudsonville, which built up pressure throughout the first half against Chargers’ goalkeeper Jessica Erickson – who stopped eight of the nine Eagle shots.
As the first half progressed, the Chargers struggled to maintain offensive pressure, giving the Eagles ample opportunities to strike. However, Erickson stood tall and kept the Eagles at bay, including a diving save on a corner kick that deflected in front of her goal.
However, the pressure mounted too high, and around midway through the first half, Hudsonville’s Kendall Aikens found the ball on her right foot inside the Dow 18-yard box after slipping her defender. Aikens, a freshman, slotted home the game’s only goal just past the outstretched arms of Erickson.
Dow never slowed down its intensity on either end, owning possession well as the game neared its end. The Chargers moved several passes toward the Hudsonville goal and had plenty of opportunities to bury the equalizer.
With about 13 minutes to play, the Chargers’ best opportunity of the second half came on a free kick from just outside the Eagles’ 18-yard box. However, the shot attempt went into the wall set up by Hudsonville. The deflection found its way to Lucy Teed, who found a way to fire a lob shot, but it sailed about a foot over the crossbar.
Later, with about five minutes left, the Chargers had another opportunity from just outside the 18-yard box when Jordan Danna served the ball into the box through a pair of Eagle defenders. The ball bounced its way through several players – including two Dow attackers – before being cleared.
With just under two minutes to play, Reagan Smith had a free-kick opportunity from 20 yards and took a shot to tie the game. Her shot sailed just above the goal and hit the crossbar of the football uprights just above the soccer crossbar.
“We competed for the whole game, which was good,” Sandow said. “ … We had a lot of opportunities (in the second half), just a little to the right, just a little to the left, a little higher, and maybe they go in. I’m really proud of them for the effort they gave in the game.”
Dow’s season comes to an end after one of its better runs in the postseason – and winning its first district title in six seasons.
With everything the team had to go through with COVID-19 and adjusting to a new coach through the pandemic, Sandow said he is proud of his team.
“I was super proud of the girls’ effort in the game (and throughout) this season,” Sandow said. “We accomplished a lot of great things, and we have a big future ahead of us.”